Note: The following article is a Lighthouse Trails topical booklet. It can be printed for personal use from this blog or purchased as a booklet to share with others.
By the Editors at Lighthouse Trails
Currently, “mindfulness” is being introduced to tens of thousands of public schools across America. One group alone, Healthy Schools Program, which includes mindfulness as part of its program, is in over 30,000 public schools (that’s about one third of all public schools in America).1 Programs such as Healthy Schools* claim that children behave better and think more clearly when they incorporate mindfulness exercises into their school regime. Researcher and author Ray Yungen states:
In recent years, a type of meditation known as mindfulness has made a surprising showing. Based on current trends, it has the potential to eclipse even Yoga in popularity. You will now find it everywhere that people are seeking therapeutic approaches to ailments or disorders. . . it is presented as something to cure society’s ills.2
School administrators, principals, teachers, and other school officials are being told that mindfulness is safe, is not religious, and is not the same as eastern or Buddhist meditation. This booklet will examine several aspects of mindfulness and will help to show why mindfulness meditation should not be brought into the schools and taught to children.
First, let’s take a moment to examine the root word of mindfulness—mindful. The word mindful is actually found in the Bible. The meaning of the word in Hebrew (the Old Testament) means “to recall,” “to record,” “to remember,” and “to call to mind.” In the Greek (the New Testament), the meaning is virtually the same, “to bring to remembrance” and “to bear in mind.” Here are a few examples:
Be ye mindful always of his covenant. (1 Chronicles 16:15)
[They] refused to obey, neither were [they] mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them. (Nehemiah 9:17)
The Lord hath been mindful of us: he will bless us. (Psalm 115:112)
Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength. (Isaiah 17:10)
. . . greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:4)
. . . that ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets. (2 Peter 3:2)
So, we can see from the Bible’s perspective that the word mindful is something where the mind is engaged actively and pondering on certain things. In several instances, it has to do with man being “mindful” (i.e., remembering) of the promises and great works of God. Obviously, with the legal structure of our public schools today, administrators who are bringing in mindfulness meditation to the students’ lives are not planning to (or legally allowed to) teach children this definition of mindful.
Webster’s Dictionary describes the word mindful as “bearing in mind” or “inclined to be aware.” Again, here we see that mindful means to be actively aware of something. Is it accurate to say that being mindful about something (as described in the context of these definitions) is the same thing as practicing mindfulness meditation? And does it belong in our public schools? Is it safe? Is it religious? Is it a form of therapy? Let’s take a look at “mindfulness” with these questions in mind.
Mindfulness is Meditation
According to the respected Mayo Clinic, mindfulness is a form of meditation:
If you’ve heard of or read about mindfulness—a form of meditation—you might be curious about how to practice it.3
Meditation author and teacher and founder of MNDFUL, Lodro Rinzler, states:
Mindfulness is a form of meditation. . . . There are many forms of meditation, including contemplation and visualization, but mindfulness is the type where you bring your full mind to an object.4
According to one source:
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.5
Not only is mindfulness a type of meditation, there would be few mindfulness teachers who would deny that mindfulness as roots in Buddhism:
Being mindful of your breath, for example, is a common form of mindfulness during meditation. Following your breath improves your awareness of being in the present. This is called mindfulness meditation, known as shamatha among Buddhists.6
In an article in Psychology Today titled “How to Practice Mindful Meditation,” it explains:
In the Buddhist tradition and in Contemplative Psychotherapy training, we nurture mindfulness through the practice of sitting meditation. There are many different kinds of meditation. For example, some are designed to help us relax; others are meant to produce altered states of consciousness.7
Ray Yungen, who researched and wrote about various forms of meditation for over twenty years, said:
True to its Buddhist roots, mindfulness involves focusing on the breath to stop the normal flow of thought. In effect, it acts the same way as a mantra; and as with Yoga.8
Mindfulness is Therapy
A growing number of health professionals consider mindfulness exercises to be a therapeutic avenue to help people with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, anger, etc. An article on mindfulness therapy, where the Journal of Psychosomatic Research and the Clinical Psychology Review are referenced as associating the use of mindfulness in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), states:
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises.9
An article titled “What is Mindfulness?” discusses mindfulness’ role in stress reduction therapy:
Jon Kabat-Zinn [founding member of the Cambridge Zen Center and trained by Buddhist teachers]10 developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. This stress reduction program became the basis of mindfulness.11
Kabat-Zinn is credited for having brought mindfulness meditation into the medical sector of our western society, and now it has been brought into public schools. One program in California for children on welfare called MBCT-C is a “psychotherapy for anxious or depressed children adapted from MBCT for adults.”12
Do parents realize their children are undergoing “therapy” in the form of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a Religious Practice
Webster defines the word religion as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”
A 2015 article titled “How the Mindfulness Movement Went Mainstream—And the Backlash That Came With It” explains Jon Kabat-Zinn’s efforts in bringing mindfulness meditation into mainstream America:
In 1979, a 35-year-old avid student of Buddhist meditation and MIT-trained molecular biologist was on a two-week meditation retreat when he had a vision of what his life’s work—his “karmic assignment”—would be. While he sat alone one afternoon, it all came to him at once: he’d bring the ancient Eastern disciplines he’d followed for 13 years—mindfulness meditation and yoga—to people with chronic health conditions right here in modern America.13
However, as the article continues, Kabat-Zinn knew he would have to convince Americans that mindfulness is not a religious practice but rather a scientific one. He knew they wouldn’t accept it if they knew the truth about it, that it is a Buddhist/New Age practice:
[H]e approached the challenge by adopting a mainstream and commonsensical American vocabulary that described meditation as a way of paying attention and cultivating awareness in everyday life, and by using practices that were equally accessible and straightforward. . . . Kabat-Zinn’s approach would be to offer training in mindfulness in ways that were implicitly anchored in Buddhist teachings, but in a universal and mainstream American idiom and framework.14
I bent over backward to structure it and find ways to speak about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of its being seen as Buddhist, New Age, Eastern Mysticism, or just plain flaky.15
His plans to dupe westerners worked. He was able to introduce a purely religious/New Age practice while convincing mainstream America that mindfulness had nothing to do with religion or the New Age at all. Once that was accomplished, the rest was easy: “separation of church and state” activists had succeeded in removing “religion” from schools, government, and other public venues. Thus, by “proving” that mindfulness meditation is not in any way religious, it could be welcomed with open arms into the general populace and finally into the public schools.
Wouldn’t it be good if public school administrators, principals, and teachers knew what mindfulness teachers and Buddhists know, that mindfulness is a religion? And since public schools in America have made the decision that religion cannot be taught in the public schools, Yoga, mindfulness, and other forms of meditation have no business being used in the public schools. Not only is it discriminatory against Christian influence in the schools, which has been banned from American public schools because it is “religious,” it is deceitful.
Mindfulness Meditation is Dangerous
Numerous research reports show that meditation can be dangerous, especially for the vulnerable and weak (a category in which children fit). A preface to an article titled “Meditation is Touted as a Cure for Mental Instability but Can It Actually Be Bad for You” written by Dr. Miguel Farias* states:
If it’s so powerful, might meditation also do harm to sensitive souls? Researching a mass murder, Dr. Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, it can leave devotees in pieces.16
[M]editation, for all its de-stressing and self-development potential, can take you deeper into the recesses of your mind than you may have wished for.17
In the article, Farias relays the stories of people who were meditators and upon further research came to believe that meditation can be very dangerous. He found there were other professionals who agreed:
In 1992, David Shapiro, a professor at UCLA Irvine, published an article about the effects of meditation retreats. After examining 27 people with different levels of meditation experience, he found 63 per cent of them had suffered at least one negative effect and seven per cent profoundly adverse effects.18
[A] number of Western Buddhists are aware that not all is plain sailing with meditation; and they have even given a name to the emotional difficulties that arise—the “dark night”—borrowing the phrase coined by the 16th-century Christian mystic St John of the Cross to describe an advanced stage of prayer and contemplation characterised by an emotional dryness, in which the subject feels abandoned by God.19
In another article titled “3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know,” David K. William references the work of Dr. Florian Ruths, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in London, and researchers at Brown University showing that meditation can invoke the following results:
It can bring feelings of ennui, emptiness and even fear.
It can bring changes in your sense of self, and cause impairment in social relationships.
It can be disempowering and keep you passive, contained and compliant.20
The article describes Brown University’s “dark night project,” (later named “The Varieties of Contemplative Experience Project”21) describing how “some Buddhist meditators have been assailed by traumatic memories.”22
Professor Willoughby Britton, lead researcher and psychiatrist in the project, has recorded surprising problems among some of the Buddhist meditators that include: “cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations,” impairment in social relationships and changes in their sense of self.23
Another article, titled “The Dangers of Meditation: It Can Actually Lead to Insomnia, Fear and Hypersensitivity to Light,” states:
[M]indfulness, so popular with celebrities like Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie, could be bad for you—causing insomnia, anxiety and hypersensitivity to light and sound.
These were side effects discovered by US researchers exploring the phenomenon of “meditation sickness” by interviewing nearly 100 people.
They found, while some experienced bliss from concentrating on their breathing and practising “loving kindness,” others were left in pain or struggling to return to normal life.24
The article also reports on a study done by Brown University:
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, describes the “billion dollar meditation industry,” with more than 20 mobile phone apps now devoted to mindfulness.
But medical reports document cases of meditation-induced psychosis, seizures and mania, while Zen Buddhists have long acknowledged the existence of “meditation sickness.” . . .
A team led by Brown University found people could suffer ill effects from doing just half an hour of meditation or after only one day.25
In the study, it was discovered that the most common side effects were fear, anxiety, panic or paranoia.
This was experienced by 82 per cent of those questioned, while 42 per cent suffered hallucinations, visions or illusions and 28 per cent said they had become hypersensitive to light and sound.26
Author Mary Wylie, Ph.D., writes:
These effects are well documented in Buddhist texts as stages along the long, hard path to inner wisdom but . . . aren’t featured in mindfulness/meditation brochures . . . [meditation is] in fact, a far deeper, more complex, and less well-understood process than many people realize.27
Some of the Dangers and Effects of Meditation
The following list is derived from the various sources we used to compile this booklet:
hypersensitivity to light and sound
panic and paranoia
unable to function or work
a loss of sense of identity
elevated mood and grandiose delusions
unrestrained behaviors (sexual and violence)
confusion and disorientation
feelings of emptiness and ennui (listlessness, dissatisfaction)
impairment of social relationships
cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations
causes passiveness and compliance (even when those are negative responses to certain situations)
It is worthwhile to note that most of these symptoms are similar to symptoms that occur with the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Is this really what America’s children should be put at risk of enduring? There is no way for a teacher to know which children will respond negatively to meditation. As one concerned parent asked, “Can any district guarantee that no one will suffer negative effects of mindfulness in its classrooms?” Are school districts willing to take the risk of lawsuits against them if children start experiencing some of the symptoms above?
We find it sadly ironic that while part of the motive in having children practice mindfulness is to cut back on bullying and violence, several of the potential symptoms, including “unrestrained” sexual and violent behavior, would feed bullying and violence, not diminish it. Some of the mass shootings that have taken place in this past decade especially were committed by those who had a history of practicing meditation. A case in point is Kyle Odom, a 30-year-old Marine veteran who shot an Idaho pastor six times (the pastor miraculously survived). In an article we posted, we stated:
A “manifesto,” written by former Marine Kyle Odom, the 30-year-old man who shot Idaho pastor Tim Remmington, reveals that his life started to change drastically when he began doing meditation while in university to relieve stress. The meditation experiences . . . eventually led to two suicide attempts and then the shooting of Pastor Remmington.28
When we consider some of the possible symptoms from practicing meditation—depersonalization, unrestrained behaviors, psychotic depression, a loss of sense of identity—we must ask the question, will this huge thrust by American public schools to have all school children meditating end up producing a greater amount of violence and psychotic behavior in our society rather than more peace and love? Again, we must ask, how will teachers who instruct children on mindfulness exercises know which children will have adverse reactions? There is no way they can know, and thus, they are playing Russian roulette with America’s youth.
To order copies of Mindfulness: What You May Not Know And Should Have Been Told,click here.
1. Healthy Schools Program (https://www.healthiergeneration.org/take_action/schools/).
2. Ray Yungen, “Mindfulness! Heard of It? What Does it Mean, and Where is it Showing Up in Christian Circles?” (https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=18879).
3. Mayo Clinic Staff, “Mindfulness Exercises” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356.
4. Lecia Bushak, “Mindfulness vs Meditation: The Difference Between These Two Pathways to Well-Being and Peace of Mind” (Medical Daily, March 10, 2016, http://www.medicaldaily.com/mindfulness-meditation-differences-377346).
6. Lecia Bushak, “Mindfulness vs Meditation: The Difference Between These Two Pathways to Well-Being and Peace of Mind,” op. cit.
7. Karen Kissel Wegela Ph.D., “How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-courage-be-present/201001/how-practice-mindfulness-meditation).
8. Ray Yungen, “Mindfulness! Heard of It? What Does it Mean, and Where is it Showing Up in Christian Circles?,” op., cit.
9. “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy” (Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/therapy-types/mindfulness-based-cognitive-therapy).
10. According to Wikipedia, Jon Kabat-Zinn is “the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.” “Kabat-Zinn was a student of Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Zen Master Seung Sahn and a founding member of Cambridge Zen Center. His practice of yoga and studies with Buddhist teachers led him to integrate their teachings with scientific findings. He teaches mindfulness, which he says can help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain, and illness. The stress reduction program created by Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness-based stress reduction, is offered by medical centers, hospitals, and health maintenance organizations” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Kabat-Zinn).
11. Raymond Philippe, “What Is Mindfulness?” (https://remedygrove.com/wellness/Mindfulness-Explained).
13. Mary Sykes Wylie, “How the Mindfulness Movement Went Mainstream—And the Backlash That Came With It” (Alternet, January 29, 2015, https://www.alternet.org/personal-health/how-mindfulness-movement-went-mainstream-and-backlash-came-it).
16. Dr. Miguel Farias, “Meditation Is Touted as a Cure for Mental Instability but Can It Actually Be Bad for You?” (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/meditation-is-touted-as-a-cure-for-mental-instability-but-can-it-actually-be-bad-for-you-10268291.html).
20. David K. William, “3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know” (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/3-hidden-dangers-meditation-you-should-know.html).
21. Brown University, “The Varieties of Contemplative Experience” (https://www.brown.edu/research/labs/britton/research/varieties-contemplative-experience).
24. Victoria Allen, “The Dangers of Meditation: It Can Actually Lead to Insomnia, Fear and Hypersensitivity to Light” (Daily Mail, UK, May 24, 2017, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4538240/The-dangers-meditation.html).
27. Mary Sykes Wylie, “How the Mindfulness Movement Went Mainstream—-And the Backlash that Came With It,” op cit.
28. “Kyle Odom, the Man Who Shot Idaho Pastor, Says Meditation Started it All” (Lighthouse Trails Research, March 10, 2016, https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=19057).
To order copies of Mindfulness: What You May Not Know And Should Have Been Told,click here.
We recommend giving this booklet to parents and also to local public-school district officials. And Lighthouse Trails is willing to send a free copy of one of our booklets on meditation to any school district official who would like to read it. Just call us at 541-391-7699 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org the name and mailing address of any school official who agrees to receive the booklet.
(This article is also in booklet format.)